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2021 Verne Batchelder Instructor Fund Grant Recipient: Ana O'Brien (NY)

Ana O'Brien on 'Louis' the Lusitano

I was afforded an exceptional opportunity through The Dressage Foundation’s Verne Batchelder Instructor Fund to further my continuing biomechanical education with FEI competitor, coach, rider, and Para Athlete, Michelle LaBarre. Michelle is known for her deep knowledge of horse and rider biomechanics and her innate feel from the saddle.

As a Centered Riding Instructor and Para Dressage coach, I really appreciated the cohesiveness of our talents. There was no question that I could benefit from Michelle’s thorough knowledge as we delved deeper into understanding how our bodies have a direct cause and effect on our mounts.

Over the course of four days, we systematically discussed the importance of a healthy supple equine body with that of our own matching suppleness. 

Michelle utilizes her Equicizer to further identify imbalances, compensations, and instabilities within our bodies. Bringing awareness to these areas facilitates self-correction when we are on dynamic moving objects like our horses.

As Michelle stated, “Understanding biomechanics starts at ground level; literally on the ground,” since our horse's balance initiates from the hoof up. She is meticulous with her horse’s health from the ground up, starting with nutrition, physio health, equine podiatry, and saddle fit.

For riders, understanding that when unmounted, our posture mimics our mounted feel. From the ground we bring our awareness to our sensation of even pressure in both feet and legs. Our shoulders should be level as should our hips and our pelvis. Carrying our head steady and eyes looking ahead and not drawn down as we are inclined to do. This feeling of being grounded is then applied to the saddle.

Michelle with her rider’s skeleton, ‘Voltron’

Our goal is a harmonious picture, which is a direct result of proper alignment.

In summary, you know you have had an amazing time when you want “just one more day!” This was a wonderful learning experience that heightened my awareness of the proper foundation in body alignment with concepts that I can apply forward to myself and my students.

Michelle instructing a student utilizing a skeletal shirt she designed.

I am grateful to The Dressage Foundation and to all the donors who make educational opportunities like this one available to both amateurs and professionals alike!

Please support The Dressage Foundation with a charitable donation for continued education!

Ana O’Brien, Five Star, and Michelle LaBarre